by Julian Spivey
Director: Billy Porter
Starring: Eva Reign, Abubakr Ali & Renee Elise Goldsberry
Runtime: 1 hour & 38 minutes
“Anything’s Possible,” the directorial debut from Emmy-winning actor Billy Porter, is a unique, modern take on the coming-of-age high school romance genre.
The film shows the budding relationship between Khal (Abubakr Ali) and Kelsa (Eva Reign). It’s your typical cute high school first love tale, but with some modernity thrown in because Kelsa is a trans girl. This makes “Anything’s Possible” something you likely wouldn’t have seen in a mainstream movie even a decade ago, but the brilliance of Porter’s film and Ximena Garcia Lecuona’s script is that the story doesn’t focus all that much on Kelsa being trans. Khal likes her for who she is, not as some in Kelsa’s inner circle suspect as some way to earn “woke” points. And this is the way “Anything’s Possible” should be told because today’s youth doesn’t seem to care about the kind of old school constructs past generations were so caught up in. If you like someone you like someone. How they were born doesn’t matter.
The chemistry between Reign and Ali, both in their film debuts, is instantaneous and you fall for this duo from the first time you see them together. The relationship will leave you with a smile on your face for the majority of their time together. Of course, there will be a hardship along the way or there wouldn’t be any drama to this movie, but it’s not something that wallops you over the head as a viewer.
It was kind of nice to see such an open-minded high school on film, though I don’t know if that’s just the way of the world today or if it’s a bit of Hollywood fantasy. I do know today’s youth is more open-minded than my high school was 15 years ago, but I bet in my neck of the woods in the middle of red country things might not be as easy for a couple like Kelsa and Khal. I hope the real world is a kind to couples like this as the one in this movie is.
The majority of the story is focused on Kelsa and Khal, but there are some nice supporting performances in the film from the always lovely Renee Elise Goldsberry as Kelsa’s loving mother Selene and some comic relief from Kelly Lamor Wilson as Kelsa’s best friend Chris and Manu Narayan and Miriam Laube as Khal’s parent Sasan and Selda.
It’s important for stories like “Anything’s Possible” to be told and I think it’s terrific that Porter, who I imagine is considered royalty among Hollywood’s LGBTQIA+ community, chose a story like this for his directorial debut. I can’t wait to see what kind of stories he has to tell in the future. I also hope for fruitful careers in acting for Reign and Ali, as well.
“Anything’s Possible” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Cooper Raiff
Starring: Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson & Vanessa Burghardt
Runtime: 1 hour & 47 minutes
Oh, to have had the talent of Cooper Raiff at 24 years old. If you don’t know the name yet you likely will before long, but Cooper Raiff is a director, writer, actor extraordinaire. He’s made two films in his early filmmaking career and the second “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” streaming in AppleTV+ right now, has a whole lotta heart and isn’t afraid to show it.
Raiff first made his mark in 2020 with his directorial debut (that he also wrote and acted in) called “Shithouse,” which I haven’t yet seen but was a critical darling upon its release. His sophomore effort “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” which comes from a line in the DJ Casper dance hit “Cha Cha Slide,” premieres at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival in January and quickly had its distribution rights purchased by AppleTV+ for $15 million.
In the film Raiff plays Andrew, a recent Tulane University graduate who moves back into his parents home and is pretty aimless. He wants to travel to Spain to be with his college girlfriend, but that plan doesn’t last long. When he takes his younger brother, David (Evan Assante), to a bar mitzvah that is lame as hell Andrew encourages everybody at the party to get up and dance – including an autistic teen girl named Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) and her young mom Domino (Dakota Johnson).
Andrew is so successful as a “party starter,” all of the other parents seeing their teen children enjoying themselves so much quickly gobble him up to do the same at their children’s upcoming bar mitzvahs and parties.
Andrew is incredibly charming – Domino is constantly calling him sweet, even if he brushes this off. It’s rare to see a character this charming, especially with the aimlessness of his life, on film these days, but Raiff isn’t afraid to show this. The film quite broadly wears its charm on its sleeves. Andrew believes in soul mates for pete’s sake!
The way Andrew interacts with Lola is beautiful – knowing her disability, but never talking down to her or treating her as a child. Lola is adorable and this is as much to do with Burghardt, who has autism in real life, as it is Raiff’s script.
Johnson’s Domino is immediately alluring the moment we meet her – part of it is the gift of looks her parents (Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson) gave her, but much of it has to do with the way she carries herself and even touches put in the script by Raiff, like just the uniqueness of her name.
The chemistry between all of the performers in “Cha Cha Real Smooth” is terrific, especially that between Raiff and Johnson, whom you immediately want together and expect together from the start. The fact that the film doesn’t necessarily go down the path you think it will by its end is what makes it unique and in some ways maybe a bit infuriating, but by the end of the movie everyone is on the path that makes sense for them, even if not 100 percent completely thrilled by it. It’s a fact of life. One that might be hard for the idealistic young, but one it doesn’t take long into adulthood to realize.
It's terrific to see a young filmmaker come out with something this good at such a young age. I look forward to following Raiff’s career into the future.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Sophie Hyde
Starring: Emma Thompson & Daryl McCormack
Runtime: 1 hour & 39 minutes
If you Google “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,” directed by Sophie Hyde, you’ll see genres listed as drama/sex comedy. While there are occasional laughs in ‘Leo Grande’ it’s laughable to see it listed as a “sex comedy.” This is no “American Pie” or raunchy film where sex is a part of a joke. ‘Leo Grande’ is an important look at middle-age-to-elderly sex and the right to being fulfilled sexually at any age.
“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,” written by Katy Brand, is the kind of movie I’ve always loved – there’s two primary characters, one location and almost entirely dialogue. It’s basically a play captured on film. And while I understand the simplicity of two characters, one location, almost entirely dialogue might sound boring to man film goers, ‘Leo Grande’ kept my attention the whole way through it’s one hour and 37 minute runtime with two of the best performances I’ve seen on film this year.
Nancy Stokes, nom de plume, is a 60-something widower who’s never orgasmed in her life and her sex life with her late husband was very straightforward and unexciting. She’s embarrassed by her age, her body and her lack of experiences with sex. We meet her in a hotel room, where she’s waiting for a knock on the door from Leo Grande, nom de plume, a sex worker with ridiculously good looks, who’s probably in his mid-to-late 20s.
Nancy is played by Oscar-winner Emma Thompson. Leo is played by Daryl McCormack, who is new to me, but makes his mark on the film brilliantly. It should be a star-making turn.
Nancy is guilty and embarrassed, both of which Leo assures her she need not feel. There’s nothing dirty about sex and he thinks highly of his profession. ‘Leo Grande’ is very sex positive.
You wouldn’t expect such a scenario – woman books sex worker – to lead to such wonderful conversations, but Nancy’s worries about the experience lead to both of them opening up and getting to know one another. The two form something of an odd couple relationship and after a positive first meeting, Nancy books Leo once again – she has an entire list of sexual pleasures she wants to try out this time. She insists she’ll never orgasm though.
As one would guess, eventually things turn too personal between Nancy and Leo when real names and pasts are brought up. Ultimately, the two come to an understanding – though as a viewer it’s unfortunate to know these two people who’ve shared so much intimacy together will likely never see each other again. But Nancy ultimately received what she’d been looking for all along – and no it’s not just the orgasm.
Thompson is brilliant in ‘Leo Grande’ and has been hailed by many as being brave for going completely nude as a 63-year old actress. I don’t know if bravery is where I would go with it, but it is unusual to see an actress of her age do this. It’s also important to the overall story, something most nude scenes realistically aren’t. I hope voters remember Thompson’s turn in this film when Oscar nominations are up for conversation – though it’s mid-summer release on a streaming service like Hulu may have a negative impact on that.
McCormack is likely going to be a name to look out for moving forward after his performance as the titular character in this film. He’s a warm, smart presence and his piercing eyes and good looks certainly won’t hurt him any finding roles.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Starring: Adam Sandler, Juancho Hernangomez & Ben Foster
Runtime: 1 hour & 57 minutes
Adam Sandler might be 55 years old and nearly 30 years into his film career, but he’s more popular than ever when you combine his critical reviews and audience scores, according to Entertainment Weekly. Sandler’s latest film “Hustle,” which premiered on Netflix on June 3 and his directed by Jeremiah Zagar, has a 92 percent critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes (only director Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” from 2017 is higher) and the audience score is at 93 percent, which is eight points higher than his previous most popular audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, which was his 1996 golf comedy “Happy Gilmore.”
There are a few Sandler dramatic performances I’ve yet to see – most notably his 2002 film “Punch-Drunk Love,” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and 2019’s “Uncut Gems,” directed by Josh and Benny Safdie – but I’ve never seen him better than as basketball scout Stanley Sugerman, one of the best in his field, but with aspirations of becoming an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers NBA franchise. At the beginning of the film Sugerman’s dreams come true when he’s promoted to assistant coach by the team’s owner Rex Merrick, played by acting legend Robert Duvall, but when Merrick dies shortly after and the team is taken over by his overzealous son Vince, played by Ben Foster, who doesn’t care much for Stanley, it’s back to the airport and overseas to find the next big international basketball prospect.
While in Spain, Stanley stumbles upon a ruckus at a local outdoor basketball court where a tall, tattooed Spaniard is hustling folks at basketball while wearing his construction work boots. Stanley is enamored with the man’s play and follows him to his home in hopes of intriguing him with a potential NBA career. The young man, Bo Cruz, played by actual NBA player Juancho Hernangomez in his acting debut, doesn’t want to leave his daughter and mother in Spain, but knows it’s a great opportunity to provide for them if successful.
It's not going to be an easy trip to the NBA, Stanley knows this, but he doesn’t realize how much Vince is going to be against his newfound stud of a prospect, especially after finding out he has a previous arrest for assaulting the boyfriend of his daughter’s mother. Cruz’s attitude and inability to let others get in his head is also going to be a major detriment along the way, no matter how good he looks at times.
I said I’ve never seen Sandler better, but I’ve mostly seen his as an immature imbecile in his comedies – some sophomorically funny, others just sophomorically dumb. His role as Sugerman doesn’t seem hard, but it’s a winning performance for Sandler as an everyman trying to live out his dream and the determination he shows, mixed with Sandler’s affable charm make you root for his character the entire flick.
The hugely impressive acting in “Hustle” is that of Hernangomez, especially considering he’d never acted before and he’s on the screen nearly as much as Sandler from the moment he’s introduced. It was incredibly important for the film to find an actual basketball player to make all the plays and training experienced in the film (and there’s a training montage that goes on too long in my opinion) look realistic. It was also important to have the film’s basketball villain Kermit Wilts be a real player too and young NBA star Anthony Edwards (of the Minnesota Timberwolves) does a good job at playing the brash, trash talker.
I’ve seen a handful of basketball movies over the years and “Hoosiers” is the only great one of the bunch. In fact, there aren’t even many good basketball films period. “Hustle” may not be “Hoosiers,” but it’s definitely a good film. It’s an easy lay-up, if not a slam dunk.